If you enjoy working with children and would like a career in healthcare, a job as a healthy play specialist might be for you. Read on to discover what the role involves and the skills, qualifications, and experience you’ll need.
What does it involve?
Sometimes referred to as “hospital play specialists”, healthy play specialists are usually based in hospitals, and may work in the inpatient ward, day surgery/ambulatory ward, children outpatients’ and children A&E or other units where children are seen.
The role of healthy play specialist involves therapeutic play with children, aimed at helping young people deal with the fear, anxiety and pain that can be involved in a trip to the hospital.
In addition to welcoming a child to the ward and helping him or her to make friends, healthy play specialists use their understanding of child development to help children come to terms with the treatment they may be undergoing.
They also help children regain the skills they may have lost during treatment or illness – and assess children’s abilities and share their findings with doctors, nurses and other healthcare specialists.
The work involves devising and delivering patient-specific play programmes, including art and craft activities, and discussing the value of play and interpreting the activities for parents or carers.
What qualifications are required?
The majority of employers will expect healthy play specialists to be registered with the Healthcare Play Specialist Educational Trust. To do so you will need at least a two-year foundation degree in the subject.
There are four UK colleges which offer a foundation degree in the discipline – Bolton College in Greater Manchester, Stanmore College in Middlesex, Cardiff and Vale College in Barry, Glamorgan, and North Warwickshire and Hinckley College in Nuneaton.
What experience do I need to get on a course?
Admissions staff expect you to be able to demonstrate a commitment to the subject – and you’ll benefit from having around two years’ experience of working with children, perhaps in a nursery or school role. People have also come to the role with a background in community play work, nursing, occupational therapy, social work, teaching, art, drama or music therapy.
If you have volunteered to work with sick children at a hospital (ideally alongside a qualified play specialist), this will show you are serious about the vocation and that you have already taken steps to find out if it really is for you.
Do I need any specific qualifications to get on a course?
You will need a full NVQ level 3 childcare qualification, along with GCSEs in maths and English (at grades A to C) – or the equivalent NVQ level 2 literacy and numeracy qualification.
You may also be expected to arrange a work placement and mentor in healthy play to assist you with the work aspects of the course. This can be paid or voluntary work, but most comprise of 200 hours’ work for each year of the course.
The course involves a mixture of academic study and work placement – writing essays and reports, reviewing literature relevant to the subject and taking part in exercises to show the experience gained from your placement.
Are there any other routes into the job?
It is also possible to work as a healthy play assistant in a hospital while studying part-time, but this is only likely to work if you live (or can move) near one of the colleges offering the course. Healthy play assistants typically earn from £13,000 to £18,000 per year.
What personal qualities are useful?
As well as enjoying working with children, you’ll need to have a sense of fun and a good imagination for the play aspects, as well as a caring and kind attitude.
Being approachable and reassuring both to children and their parents is a key requirement of the role – and you’ll need good communication, organisational and observational skills. Emotional resilience is a must, as you will sometimes be working with very sick children.
How much does it pay?
Most jobs are in the NHS, and the role is usually ranked on Agenda for Change level three. So the salary for a qualified healthy play specialist is around £19,000 to £22,000.
Some healthy play specialists progress to managing a team of people doing the same job (managers earn up to £28,000) while others move on to a career in nursing or occupational health.
Where are the jobs?
The majority of vacancies appear within the NHS – usually in children’s hospitals or on the children’s wards of general hospitals. Most NHS trusts will advertise their roles on NHS Jobs – with many also putting them on their own websites. The National Association of Health Play Specialists also features job vacancies on its website.
* Salary information taken from National Careers Service website